No drop in Thai standards: Sutee (6/12/2010)

JAKARTA: Midfielder Sutee Suksomkit sees no difference between Thailand's successful sides of the past and the team of the present but he admits that the rest of the teams in Southeast Asia have caught up with the former regional kingpins.

Sutee and Therdsak Chaiman are the only two survivors in Thailand's current AFF Suzuki Cup squad who were also involved in their victorious campaign in Jakarta in 2002. Playing with a team that included the likes of Kiatisuk Senamuang, Woorawoot Srimaka and Surachai Jaturapattarapong, the Thais beat Indonesia on penalties at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium eight years ago to win the regional title for the third time in four attempts.

But they have failed to add to their haul since despite reaching the last two finals. And their challenge this year is in serious jeopardy after they failed to manage a victory in their opening two matches in Group A against Laos and Malaysia.

Sutee though does not feel that there has been a significant drop in the standard of the national team.

"Of course in 2002, Thailand had a good team and it was a special moment for me because we were champions," said the 32-year-old to

"I was young then and I only played a few games because we had a lot of veteran players then like Kiatisuk and Woorawoot. We were very aggressive and strong and we performed very well then.

"The level of our team now is almost exactly the same and we still have good players. But a lot of things have changed now and football is a lot faster and more physical."

According to Sutee, the surprise results so far this year have highlighted how the gap between the teams has narrowed.

"We now have opponents who are much more competitive and every team is strong. Before our main challengers were Indonesia and Malaysia, but Singapore and Vietnam have gone on to win the tournament while Laos and Philippines have improved a lot this year.

"Teams like Laos are tough to play. If you can score against them like Indonesia did, it can become easier. But the longer they hold out, the tougher it is to break down their defence.

"Malaysia also played well against us. Their defence was strong and their passing game caused us a few problems."

Thailand's problems have been compounded by their lack of training and fitness due to the late finishing Thai League season which saw the team assembled in Bangkok only last Monday, two days before their opening 2-2 draw against Laos.

Explained Sutee, whose side face a must-win showdown against hosts Indonesia on Tuesday: "Our players are weak and tired after playing in a lot of club matches. We have been getting better since we arrived in Indonesia but it is still not enough.

"We need more time, so hopefully we can get to the semi-finals and get stronger as the tournament goes on.

"It will be very difficult for us on Tuesday because Indonesia are a top team and they play a very fast game. But we have no choice and we must try to find our focus and win the game."

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